A Portrait of Etta and Claribel Cone
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The story of how two spinster sisters from Baltimore acquired a remarkable collection of the sensual, avant-garde paintings of early 20th-century artists: Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, and others. Their biographer, a former Reuters reporter and editor, is also the author of a life of Victoria Woodhull (1998). The Baltimore Museum of Art’s Cone collection and the wing that houses it is the legacy of Dr. Claribel and Etta Cone, among the heirs to a family fortune based in part on textile manufacture. Etta was dedicated to caring for her extended family; Claribel was the more adventurous, graduating first in her class from medical school in 1890. The sisters came to know Leo and Gertrude Stein during the Steins’ early sojourn in Baltimore; intrigued by the Steins’ reports of their hedonistic summers in Europe, Etta set sail for Italy in the spring of 1901 and alternated between Baltimore and Europe for the rest of her life; her friendships with and support of artists, particularly Matisse, were to continue as long. Claribel too turned from science to art, after sticking it out as a medical researcher in Germany through the beginning of Hitler’s rise. The sisters’ separate apartments in Baltimore were filled not only with paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures but also with fabrics, jewels, and artifacts collected from around the world. After Claribel’s death in 1929, Etta set out to fill the gaps in the collection and published an illustrated book of works that she owned, by then including CÇzanne, Renoir, and Degas, among many others. Etta died in 1949, following the purchase of yet another Picasso. A pleasant addition to the Baltimore Museum’s gift-shop offerings, perhaps, but this slight romance of two sisters in Paris when artistic ferment was at its height offers little real insight into collecting or the collectors. (16 pages b&w, 16 pages color photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-890862-06-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Bancroft Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2000


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